Illini remain focused despite hoopla

By Lisa Koulias

At each practice, the No. 1 Illinois basketball team recites the same chant – National Champs.

Now, as the countdown begins to the Final Four in St. Louis on Saturday, the Illini will get the opportunity most teams dream about – going for a spot in the national championship game and winning the national title.

The simple chant after practice now holds a little more weight – it’s two steps away from being a reality.

“Everyday when they start practice and end practice they say ‘national champs,'” said Illinois head coach Bruce Weber. “Last year we never said that. They always had ‘1,2,3 Big Ten Champs, 4,5,6’ something and they keep adding up. Now they are up to 12.

“But I told the guys afterwards, I said ‘is that rhetoric or did you really mean that?’ and now we’ll see by your reactions this week, your preparation and then how we approach the game on Saturday, we will see if this really means something.”

    Subscribe to our sports newsletter!

    But although Weber wants his team to be focused on the task at hand and not be satisfied with just a spot in the Final Four, he does want his team to enjoy the ride they are on.

    “I told them I know they are tired, I know it’s a long season, but at the same time you are probably not going to get to come back again,” Weber said. “You better enjoy it, enjoy the fun.

    “There are so many people that have been in the game so long, there are even players that were on great teams that never got here. That they better appreciate what they have, how special it is.”

    And perhaps there is a little bit of luck or fate on Illinois’ side. Still looking back on Saturday’s double overtime, come-from-behind win over Arizona, Weber said that maybe it is meant to be for the Illini. It could really just be a storybook ending for the Illini in its 100th season of basketball.

    “I told the kids, ‘Let’s go for it,'” Weber said. “I don’t know if you would call it a lucky game, but something happened good for us. Now we have the opportunity to go to the Final Four, let’s make the most of it. See if we can go win the thing.”

    Augie All Right

    James Augustine, who appeared to be suffering from a sore knee on Saturday, says he’s fine.

    “Everyone is making a bigger deal out of it than it is,” Augustine said. “It’s fine.”

    When asked about Augustine in his weekly press conference, Weber said he didn’t know what started the discomfort, but that Augustine was receiving therapy.

    “He had therapy (Sunday),” Weber said. “This has been a problem that occurred back in the summer and it just kind of reoccurred. I don’t think it’s anything real serious. All of a sudden it just bothered him. I don’t know if he knocked knees or what happened, if he landed wrong.

    “But it’s good we have a week. They are all sore.”

    scout on Louisville

    “They’re good. They play at a very aggressive pace. They take it to you. Obviously they shoot threes. They’re a little bit like us. I think our matchups are pretty good for the most part. It’s going to be a game where defense is going to be very important.”

    – Bruce Weber on Louisville, Illinois’ Final Four opponent.